Contemporary Political Theory 20 (4):795-814 (2021)

Political theorists have traditionally grappled with laughter by posing a simple, normative question: ‘What role, if any, should laughter play in the polis?’ However, the outsized presence of laughter in contemporary politics has rendered this question increasingly obsolete. What good does determining laughter’s role in the polis do when the polis itself is to a large extent shaped by laughter? The present essay argues that Kant’s aesthetic investigations of laughter in the Critique of Judgment and Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View offer a much needed alternative to the normative discourse. Kant theorizes laughter as an intensely dialectical experience — at once an aesthetic judgment and an affect. Laughter in Kant enacts dissensus: it disrupts and transforms sensus communis, or the ways subjects see and hear the world in common that organize and structure a political community. The essay illustrates the advantages of a Kantian conception of the politics of laughter over the normative discourse by examining Dave Chappelle’s controversial 2019 stand-up comedy special Sticks & Stones. It concludes that the dissensus enacted by laughter, while not necessarily democratic, provides a privileged opening for democratic politics.
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DOI 10.1057/s41296-020-00447-9
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References found in this work BETA

Critique of Practical Reason.Immanuel Kant - 1788 - Hackett Publishing Company.
Critique of Pure Reason.I. Kant - 1787/1998 - Philosophy 59 (230):555-557.

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Comedy as Dissonant Rhetoric.Simon Lambek - forthcoming - Philosophy and Social Criticism:019145372210796.

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